Office of the President
Specific Areas of Opportunity
This paper is not an attempt to usurp the important, inclusive work of the University Planning Committee, the University Faculty Council, the several schools, the Alumni Leadership Council, and so forth. It is a plea, however, for engagement and productive ownership. Perhaps it offers an opportunity to refocus and steel ourselves for the climb we have already begun. This is a new season, one nearing a 75th anniversary, rich with promise and limited only by our imagination and, perhaps, such mundane things as funding and the economy. Henry David Thoreau once said, "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them." Our dreams are large and bold and we owe each of them a firm foothold, or "foundation," as we continue the climb. A few particular promontory points beckon:
A serious conversation must take place among faculty, alumni, and the governing board as it pertains to the matter of where Pepperdine should seek to place itself in the pantheon of America's colleges and universities. With our faith-heritage as a given, exactly what does success in this particular endeavor look like? The list of leading, national universities with a serious faith mission is remarkably short. This is as one observer noted largely "unoccupied space"6 in higher education. It is a promontory we should and will occupy, and we will demonstrate the fact that faith and academic prowess are compatible aspirations.
Many at faith-based institutions of higher learning have decided that their mission and the accompanying Christian or Jewish values, for example, do not fully apply to graduate and professional programs. Such commitments are either seen as impractical or irrelevant to the graduate enterprise and their unique market pressures. At this university, we start with the assumption that each student, graduate or undergraduate, comes to us at some point on the continuum of their personal spiritual journey. It is our desire to participate as encouragers and partners, or "scholars and witnesses," as articulated by Provost Darryl Tippens, in the course of that journey. We affirm that each student is endowed with eternal value and should be treated with care as a spiritual being.
Moving to another crucial area, one of significant value to students, alumni, and the whole of our community, Pepperdine must return to national prominence in athletics. The Campaign for Pepperdine will address some of the present physical impediments, but the commitment must be made today that each fully funded sport will be positioned to compete in the top 25 in the nation or, in several instances, at a much higher level. Pepperdine has a tradition of competing against much larger schools with great success, and we should aspire to excellence and student academic success across all programs. What we choose to do we will do well, and our student-athletes, institution-wide student morale, and our public profile will be the beneficiaries.
Pepperdine has the opportunity to lead in a number of ways; indeed, there are "mountains" we can and should climb and, even, claim. For example, Pepperdine should stand proudly for freedom of thought and civil discourse; especially this is true in light of our Christian heritage. Another example will be found in our steadfast studentcenteredness, not only in how decisions are made, but in meaningful undergraduate and graduate research and scholarly development. At many institutions, the student is not the primary focus, but it should and must be different at Pepperdine. Our doors must be open. Our administrative preferences must yield whenever there is a demonstrated need for change. The allocation of our resources—of all kinds—must add value to the teaching and learning environment, or something is terribly wrong.
Our commitment to international programs and global learning must continue and thrive. We must also give attention to how those experiences influence, shape and improve student lives and careers. Our programs abroad must result in a truly value-added dimension to the participant's education in addition to service for the sake of service.
6 Gibson, R. (2005, Fall). The Bold Promise of Pepperdine. Pepperdine People. Malibu, California: Pepperdine University. pp. 24-26. Noted theologian and professor of philosophy Dallas Willard quoted by provost Darryl Tippens.
Many college presidents bemoan the lack of support from alumni, but Pepperdine is doing something about it. Increasingly, the emphasis at the University and within each school is to call alumni "home" in every sense, and our alumni are responding eagerly. More than buildings, endowments, scholarships, and national recognition, alumni ownership of all that is Pepperdine will ensure the future. The Alumni Leadership Council is joining us on the upward climb, and already the load is lighter.
In 20 years, we should have an army of alumni advocates and supporters to rival any school our size. Done right, an energized, vibrant, and productive alumni base will fuel our most ambitious dreams that today seem out of reach without them; in fact, perhaps our alumni, in the midst of their lives of purpose, service, and leadership, will become job creators and establish the tradition of Waves hiring Waves.
A University-wide initiative will require a holistic approach to engaging recruitment, academics, cocurricular student experiences, career planning, and all of our alumni support programs. This is not a soft target: we must decode the mystery of alumni apathy present in most colleges and universities across America, and engage our alumni deeply in the future of Pepperdine. We must foster a University-wide environment that will yield reliable and loyal alumni advocacy and ownership.
Of particular encouragement are the stories we are receiving from alumni around the world who are truly living lives of profound service and impact. The Pepperdine story is one of both blessings and responsibilities. When alumni give of themselves, reflecting our motto, "Freely ye received, freely give"8 the pairing— blessings and responsibilities—is complete.
Within our Seaver College residential community, two initiatives will be helpful in our desire to strengthen undergraduate alumni engagement: focus on the sophomore experience and plans to construct a residence hall for juniors. Succinctly, we must ensure the experience of the middle portion of the undergraduate experience. We must provide a fulfilling experience for all sophomores, those who go abroad and those who remain in Malibu, and a focused effort on creating strong class identity among juniors if we hope to enjoy the full benefit of a lasting relationship with those who will emerge from our undergraduate population.
Almost more than any other physical element of the academic journey ahead, we must be successful in creating the library of the future. All the pieces are in place: we have already set aside enough space to respond to the dreams we will fashion; a strong level of support exists in the upcoming Campaign for Pepperdine; we have a central, physical Malibu presence as well as a distributed network at our graduate and professional campuses and international locations; and, finally, we have the will to make this a centerpiece, and to declare boldly that a university cannot rise higher than the quality of its libraries.
The final product will be surprising. Today’s learner and scholar has different requirements than even 10 years ago. The core collection remains critical and must be supported and, as necessary, expanded; however, technology, online resources, vast databases of information, and powerful search engines hold the future. The library of the future will encourage and enable shared experiences, group learning dynamics, and, likely, will become the true "student center" for both scholarly development and the creation of social capital on our campuses. We will study the current practices, emulate the best, and invest accordingly. But first, we dream, and plot our course.
Endowment support at Pepperdine undergirds excellence; it does not merely support operations. The difference was witnessed in the recent economic downturn as our financial condition remained strong, which allowed continued progress on virtually all fronts. Certainly, we hope for sustained and growing endowment earnings, but we will not budget in a manner that relies upon endowment to the point that operations rise or fall with the financial markets.
We believe that donors will appreciate the fact that endowment growth enables excellence and allows us to do more and to do it better. Our aspiration remains: we must press forward to a level of endowment that places us in the top 50 in the nation. We have work enough to do in the next several years on our watch, but we owe those who follow a firm foundation for the future of Pepperdine University.
One lesson learned during the current economic downturn relates to the importance of equilibrium and sustainable enrollment practices at each of our schools. Too few or too many students present a unique set of challenges. The issue, then, is to charge each school with establishing reliable levels of enrollment upon which the schools can flourish and the University can depend. We intend to focus attention on this issue, and to engage our schools in a broad and productive discussion.